Ketchen Auto Body officially closed its doors on April 1 after owners Norman Johnson and Dallas Fairburn made the difficult decision to retire after 38 years in business.
“It was not an easy decision for us but one that we had to face,” said Johnson. “With new rules, regulations and the way things are made, we just could not keep up. We are not young men anymore and to start changing things would mean facing many challenges. The technology in today’s world is for a fast pace and is consistently changing.
“In today’s world, automobiles are meant to be replaced, not fixed. The types of plastic products used in automobiles are made to sell vehicles when damaged, not repair them. We have seen many changes through the years, some bad and some for the good. The paint is a good example of a good change,” he stated.
Johnson started out his career in auto body at the Reliance Garage in Preeceville in 1967. It was a learning curve for him as he apprenticed and went to technical school for four years and completed his course when he passed his journeyman exam on the first attempt.
Dallas Fairburn, co-owner of Ketchen Auto Body had joined Johnson at Reliance Garage in 1975. The duo worked closely together in the auto body shop for five years before they both quit and set out to establish their own business together. They worked out of their own personal one-car and two-car garages in Ketchen, painting and doing all body work.
“We quickly outgrew the little spaces and realized that we needed something larger and more permanent,” said Johnson. “In the summer of 1981 we had a shop built in Ketchen and opened for business in the fall of that year. As we grew, we built up our business with the purchase of new tools. We provided a personal quality service that helped us build our customer bases,” said Johnson.
Over the years they faced challenges but the best year they had was in 1985 when the province was flourishing.
Johnson’s passion for auto body has carried him through the years.
“One of the worst things I did was sand blast the inside of an air seeder tank. Within the first few minutes I knew I made a big mistake but true to my word I completed the project. However, I think I am still picking sand out of my teeth,” he said.
“I have never regretted going into the auto body business. I love working on vehicles and making our dedicated, loyal customers happy. In retirement, I now get to work on my own personal projects that I never had the opportunity to do before. I am also going to take more time for hunting and fishing,” he said.
Johnson has been in the auto body business for 53 years in total, including 38 years with the Ketchen Auto Body.
The sign that still hangs outside the shop was made in 1980 by Earl Fairburn. It serves as a reminder of the past 38 years.